If all goes as planned, Cody will soon have its first public farm wall – a small, vertical growing system that doesn’t require soil and doubles as beautiful pieces of living, edible art.
While the concept may appear new, farm walls date back to the ancient hanging gardens of Babylon. They create awareness about different ways to produce food beyond traditional methods and educate people about growing their own food in town.
The lush greenery can add aesthetic value to otherwise bare, unused space.
“I think it will be really cool,” said Bernie Butler, administrative coordinator for the City of Cody who initiated the project. “It’s kind of an art form with produce.”
Grant match needed
Installation of the outside Vertical Farm Wall in Cody is planned for June.
Possible locations are outside the rec center swimming pool’s windows or somewhere downtown.
But for things to fall into place as hoped, the project depends upon three elements: the state’s COVID-19-related social distancing guidelines, available funding and community partnerships.
The Wyoming Business Council recently awarded 13 federally funded Community Cultivation Project grants to seven communities for farm walls. The City of Cody received a $2,250 contract.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture funds $1,600 of the wall, said Kim Porter, WBC Rural Development manager. The community contributes a $600 match and the WBC adds $50 per grant.
The business council has contracted with Bio-Logic Designs of Pinedale to install and maintain the farm walls over two years as well as teach how to continue the project and build community engagement.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Porter said. “It helps a Wyoming company build their business, communities benefit from the expertise of the company and it will build their capacity to continue this project after the grant cycle.”
Bio-Logic Designs owner Travis Hines said the Community Cultivation Project is so named because growing food is such an empowering thing.
“Creating something of value from a tiny seed, and being able to share that with others is one of the more valuable experiences I have had in life,” Hines said. “Having these gardens in high-traffic areas creates an opportunity for people to gather and share their experiences and thoughts about food.
“The power of food goes beyond nutrition, more often than not it is a bonding experience for people.”
The coronavirus pandemic has made the project more difficult.
Butler completed the grant application earlier this year. Now, due to the business and travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the city is expecting a significant drop in sales tax revenue.
“We’re waiting to learn how the budget works out,” Butler said.
Otherwise, whether the project goes forward may depend on donations.
“It has pushed me to make some structural changes to the gardens and has slowed down the development of the educational programs that will be integrated with the gardens,” Hines said of the COVID-19 complication.
That’s OK, though, he said, since once people are able to gather in public, the wall will provide a “lively and fruitful” way for people to do so.
“This has been an excercise in adaptability and faith for sure,” Hines added.
Any chosen location would need to meet grant specifications: A public area near a water spigot and electricity, and a wall that can support up to 500 pounds.
Each vertical wall is 8 1/2 feet tall and 6 1/2 feet wide.
Butler said it is best if the wall is elevated at least 2 feet above the ground to make room for an extra water storage tank underneath. City parks workers could build fencing around the garden to protect plants from deer.
Under a system called hydroponics, mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent are used to grow plants in foam tubes without soil.
“Almost anything can be grown with vertical hydroponics, given the right circumstance,” Hines said. “With this project, though, we will mostly be concentrating on greens, herbs and some small-statured fruiting vegetables.”
He lists mint, basil, nasturtiums, cherry tomatoes and butter crunch lettuce as favorites in the system so far.
To keep plants alive, someone must check emitters on the wall every day to assure they are not clogged and the water is flowing properly, Butler said.
If the wall ends up at the rec center, she envisions children attending the rec center’s Kidz on the Move summer day camp could help take care of the garden and use produce grown on the wall for their snacks and lunches. That option, though, is not finalized.
Grants are awarded with the expectation recipients will work to build enough community support and capacity to carry the project on after the grant cycle is complete. The city’s goal is to involve the community, and for garden enthusiasts to sign up to help keep the garden growing.
“We hope to have involvement from the community, and educate local groups on growing vertical gardens,” Butler said, listing Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, 4-H and garden clubs, Cody Cupboard and Senior Citizens Center as possible participants.
“After a two-year period, the goal is to have enough community involvement, expand, and maybe do some more farm walls,” Butler said.
Business Council Farm Wall grants
• Interfaith Laramie
• Rooted in Wyoming, Sheridan
• Converse County Library, Douglas and Glenrock branches (two grants)
• Goshen County Main Street (four grants)
• City of Cody
• Rock Springs Main Street
• Casper Community Greenhouse Project (three grants)